By Michelangelo Sottili – Published on Ubitennis.com on 06/02/2023
February 6, 1993, fell on a Saturday, the day Arthur Ashe died of pneumonia related to AIDS, the syndrome he probably contracted from a blood transfusion received during a coronary bypass operation in 1983. Eight years had passed since his third and last Grand Slam title, following the US Open in 1968 and the Australian Open in 1970. His victory at Wimbledon can well be considered his masterwork in sports. In the final, he beat Jimmy Connors, largely favored and nine years younger, in four sets.
Ashe was born July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia, one of those places where he had to go to schools for Blacks only and take buses for Blacks only. As the city’s Department of Health wrote in 2021: “systemic racism had an enormous cost on the health of the Black citizens for generations”. This was true, for example, for the health of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African American who was tortured and assassinated for daring to speak a word to a White woman. It was 1955 and Arthur brought to the tennis court his everyday approach to life. The passwords were prudence, being on the defensive, and thinking above all about keeping it alive – the point and your own body. “In the South, if you’re Black and you do something too fast, your life can be in danger” he stated years later thinking about Emmett’s murder.
A drastic turning point in the career and life of Arthur came in 1960 when he moved to St. Louis for his last year in high school under the encouragement of his father and his coach and mentor, Robert Walter Johnson. A “push” partially, if not entirely, motivated by his hopes to get a tennis scholarship to college. To do so, he needed long periods of “professional training and high-level tournament competition”, as his biographer Raymond Arsenault put it, conditions impossible in the Richmond of racial segregation that prohibited him from using indoor courts. His tennis became aggressive as he strengthened his serve, volley, and forehand. Among other competitions, he won the Junior Indoor Championship and became the first African American to earn a scholarship at UCLA.
Another important year was 1968, which began the Open Era. Although Ashe was unlike Muhammad Ali, who was deprived of his titles for his protests against the Vietnam War and his refusal to take up arms, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who boycotted the Olympics “because it was useless to win a gold medal for your country to then return to live under oppression.” That year, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had an enormous impact on him, as had the earlier tragedy of the adolescent Emmett. Arthur finally let his voice be heard, as he explained in the documentary Citizen Ashe: “Other Black Athletes used their influence and power to take political positions. At a certain point I said to myself, “Arthur, you can’t just stay on the sidelines while all this is happening, you have to do something.” Arthur’s was a path of slow and complicated activism, very different from the trenchant stands we are used to today. Even then, Billie Jean King is known to have commented “Christ, I’m Blacker than Arthur”. Too White for the Blacks and too Black …? After receiving the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award in 2020, Frances Tiafoe wrote: “Nothing you did was for yourself. You simply tried first to be a person and then an athlete. He always looked to help others, and this is a great inspiration”.
In his support of civil rights, Ashe often spoke in favor of Nelson Mandela’s battle against apartheid. Even though not many understood how his presence could be of help, he played in Johannesburg demanding, “that the bleachers not be segregated for his match, that the public come and go when and where they pleased, that admission not be tied to the status of honorary White”. In 1973, he received a letter of thanks from Winnie Mandela (who reminded him, however, that “the best thing you can do is to ask the South Africans how you can help them in their struggle”). For the first time, the American champion was admitted to the tournament – one of the conditions set by the ITF to avoid a second year of suspension of South Africa from the Davis Cup, a sanction to which Ashe contributed in a determining way. His activism cost him two arrests in Washington: in 1985, during the demonstration in front of the South African Embassy, and in 1992, for protests against the tightening of the immigration policies imposed on Haitian refugees; it may also have cost him the role of Captain of the Davis Cup. This is because there is no “middle road”: if you don’t speak up, you’re criticized for your lack of involvement; if you do, you’re criticized for not concentrating exclusively on tennis.
“One of the craziest things about you”, Tiafoe once wrote.“is that everyone knows about the efforts you made to better the world. But you won Slams, brother!”.
In 1973, when he lost the final in South Africa against Connors, he had already won two. And it was precisely against ‘Jimbo’, as mentioned above, that he played the final at Wimbledon in 1975, at which Connors, class of 1952, had arrived without dropping a set. Ashe instead had left a few sets on the wayside – two in the semifinals against Tony Roche. This was the same Connors who differed strikingly from the always gentile and well-mannered Ashe; this was the same Connors Arthur criticized for not joining the newborn ATP and the same Connors who sued him for three million dollars after Arthur had called him “anti-patriotic” for his refusal to play the Davis Cup. 6-1 6-1 5-7 6-4 was the score in Church Road in favour of the first Black tennis player to win Wimbledon.
Ashe played a number of times in Italy: in Rome, Bologna, Milan, and Florence. He came to the Tuscan capital in 1979 upon the invitation of the director of the tournament, Ubaldo Scanagatta. The spark was an exhibition organised at the Excelsior Hotel featuring the photography of Mrs Ashe, who could not resist the fascinating call of the city.
In 1988, he received the diagnosis of HIV that would lead to his death five years later. It was, however, only just prior to the public announcement of the sickness, in 1992, that Ashe founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, initiating a funding campaign and requesting the government to provide resources for research and education of the populace on the issue. As in his previous battles, in this case, as well, his activism matured slowly. But, as ever, it bloomed as a natural consequence of his will to help his neighbour. Because if you become passionate about a “White people’s sport” in a city that boasts the statue of a general who defended (among other things) the right to enslave people, inevitably you become the first to face certain situations.
Translated by Jodie Mariotti and Kingsley Elliot Kaye
‘Super happy’ Holger Rune Reacts To Winning First Match Since Wimbledon In Beijing
Holger Rune says he is pain-free and has gained confidence since reuniting with his former coach after ending his seven-match losing streak at the China Open.
Rune, who is the third seed in Beijing this week, beat former top 10 player Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-4, in his opening match on Friday. The Dane fired 15 winners compared to only three unforced errors during the 85-minute encounter. It is the first time he has won a match on the Tour since Wimbledon in July.
“It feels very good. I had a tough period both with my body and with matches,” said Rune. “I’m happy to be back feeling good and feeling mentally well off the court. I’m super happy with my level today.”
The 20-year-old is experiencing a roller-coaster season where he reached the final of two Masters 1000 events and won a title in Germany during the first six months. However, recently he has struggled for wins on the Tour and ended his collaboration with Patrick Mouratoglou.
On top of that, Rune has also been hampered by a back injury which he recently underwent treatment on before coming to China. He previously told Danish TV that he had a pinched nerve in the fifth lumbar vertebra in his spine since the clay-court season. As a result, he has had to make adjustments to his service motion to overcome this problem.
“I didn’t feel any pain in my body,” he stated following his latest match.
“I’m feeling healthy and taking care of my body. Mostly I’m happy to play without pain and enjoy myself.”
Guiding the world No.4 now is Lars Christensen who he has previously worked with since childhood.
“It has helped my confidence. After some tough periods, he knows me so well,” Rune commented. “He knows when I’m back at my best level so it is easy for us to communicate and find the best version of Holger. That we did today.”
Rune will next play Grigor Dimitrov who staged an epic comeback to defeat Mackenzie McDonald. The Bulgarian was a set and 5-2 down before fighting back to prevail 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-1, over the American who was experiencing problems with his shoulder.
Medvedev, Sinner though in contrasting matchesEmbed from Getty Images
In other matches at the tournament, second seed Daniil Medvedev stormed to a 6-2, 6-1, win over Tommy Paul. He has now recorded 39 hardcourt wins on the Tour so far this season which is more than any other player.
“It’s not easy for both of us. Both of us a little jet lagged. Him maybe more, coming from Vancouver,” Medvedev said afterward. “Maybe that made the difference, but if I think only about myself, I’m happy with my level.
“I played great. The start of the match was not easy, but it’s never easy first round, especially in another part of the world. Then I was playing better and better during the match, so I’m happy about my level.”
This week is the first time Medvedev has played since losing to Novak Djokovic in the US Open final. He is seeking to win his fifth title of 2023.
Also through to the next round is Italy’s Jannik Sinner who struggled at times with his fitness during his troublesome 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-3, win over Dan Evans. The world No.7 served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but failed to capitalize on the opportunity, lost a 3-0 lead in the decider and then started limping on the court. During the closing stages, he also fell when trying to return a ball and appeared to hurt himself. Despite all the drama, Sinner still managed to seal the win.
Sinner is now 16-1 in opening matches this season. He is bidding to reach his 12th tournament quarter-final in Beijing.
Roger Federer Targets Djokovic And Alcaraz For Laver Cup 2024 After Team World Thrashes Europe
Roger Federer says he would love to see the two highest-ranked players on the men’s Tour play in the next Laver Cup after this year’s tie ended in a crushing defeat for Europe.
Team World, which is captained by John McEnroe, dominated the clash in Vancouver after surging to a 10-2 lead heading into the final day of competition. On Sunday they were required to win only one match to claim the overall title which they did in the opening doubles match. Ben Shelton and Frances Tiafoe ousted the European duo of Andrey Rublev and Hubert hurkacz 7-6(4), 7-6(5).
“I am proud of these guys. We brought together a great group of some youth and experience, guys that have been here before. Everybody played well,” McEnroe said of his team’s 13-2 victory.
“It was an awesome week. We kicked some ass.”
“Winning is a whole lot better than losing. We struggled the first couple of years, and now we have tasted winning and it feels good.”
In contrast, Europe didn’t have much joy at the event with their only victory being from Casper Ruud who defeated Tommy Paul on the second day of the tie. Since the start of the competition in 2017, Europe won four consecutive titles but 2023 is the second year in a row that they have been defeated.
Hoping that this losing streak will come to an end next year when the event is held in Berlin, Federer says he wishes Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz will play. Djokovic has played in the Laver Cup twice before but Alcaraz is yet to make his debut.
“They destroyed Team Europe. Team World played fantastic, they really brought the energy. Everybody brought a point, they were stronger in the doubles. In the singles too, they were moving fast, they were ready to go. They thoroughly deserved victory,” said Federer.
“I would like to see Novak again, Alcaraz and Novak on the same team. Sascha Zverev would be great for the German market. Someone like [Holger] Rune, that really hurt Team Europe. Rune and [Stefanos] Tsitsipas pulling out. [Daniil] Medvedev would be great. I like watching [Andrey] Rublev, and maybe someone will come through,” he added.
Federer is a co-founder of the Laver Cup with his management company Team 8 partnering up with Tennis Australia and Jorge Paulo Lemann to create the event. In 2019 the team competition was awarded ATP Tour status with a spot on the official calendar and access to marketing facilities under an agreement. However, ranking points are not awarded to players.
Due to the nature of the format, only one match was played on Sunday with fans not getting the chance of watching any singles. Something two-time French Open champion Ruud admits is a problem.
“Two of the times that I have played was maybe in a way a little bit unfortunate with only one deciding doubles (match) on Sunday,” Ruud commented.
“The crowd didn’t get to see a singles (match) after or whatever. That’s not in my hands to decide what the format looks like.’
“But last year in London was great in many ways because you had so many great players and it came down to almost the last match. When I watched on TV the first series, it was so exciting because Roger played a couple of times, the final match of the Sunday and clutched it for Team Europe. It’s been a couple of years without playing that last singles match. But it’s a great initiative. Me, as a golf fan, watching the Ryder Cup all my life in my childhood, it’s great for tennis to have this event.”
The 2024 Laver Cup will be held at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin between September 20-22.
India’s Sumit Nagal Receives Sponsorship Boost After Revelling Financial Struggles
A leading food and drink company has pledged to support India’s highest-ranked men’s player who was unable to train at his usual facility in Germany earlier this year due to a lack of money.
Earlier this week world No.159 Sumit Nagal made a public plea for financial support to help him continue his career as a tennis player. In recent years he has been based at the Nansel Tennis Academy in Germany but was unable to train there during the first three months of the 2023 season due to a lack of funds. During this period he relied on his friends, including former player Somdev Devvarman, to help maintain his fitness.
“If I look at my bank balance, I have what I had at the beginning of the year. It is 900 euros. I did get a bit of help. Mr Prashant Sutar is helping me with MAHA Tennis Foundation and I also get monthly (salary) from IOCL but I don’t have any big sponsor,” Nagal told the Press Trust of India.
“I am investing whatever I am making. The yearly cost where I travel with one coach is costing me around Rs 8 million to Rs 10 million (90,000-113,000 euros) and that is just with one travelling coach (no physio). Whatever I have made I have already invested,” he added.
Nagal, who is 26 years old, has reached the semi-finals of better at five tournaments on the lower-level Challenger Tour so far this season. His only Grand Slam result was at the US Open where he lost in the first round of qualifying to Taro Daniel. It was at the US Open where he took a set off Roger Federer before losing in 2019.
Despite being the only player from his country to be ranked in the top 400, Nagal is currently not part of the Target Olympics Podium Scheme. An initiative set up by the Indian government to provide support to their top athletes.
After learning about Nagal’s ongoing struggles on the Tour, a leading company has decided to support the tennis player by signing a three-year deal with him. Gatorade specializes in sports drinks and is manufactured by PepsiCo. Under the deal, Nagal will receive support with his recovery and nutrition from experts at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI).
“I am deeply moved and grateful to join hands with Gatorade. This association comes to me at a pivotal time, and I am thankful my hard work and passion is getting recognized and appreciated. With Gatorade by my side, I am sure I will reach new heights and give it my all both on and off the court,” the Indo-Asian News Service quoted Nagal as saying on Thursday.
Speaking about the new partnership, Ankit Agarwal from PepsiCo India has hailed the collaboration. Agarwal is the company’s Associate Director of Energy & Hydration.
“Sumit is a role model for the new-gen athletes of India with his career being a true example of hard work and sweat that makes talent shine,” he said.
“As a brand that is dedicated to supporting athletes in removing barriers to sporting success, we are delighted to welcome Sumit to the Gatorade squad.”
Nagal has been ranked as high as No.122 in the world. So far in his career, he has won four Challenger titles with two of those occurring this year in Italy and Finland.
Carlos Alcaraz beats Yannick Hanfmann on his debut at the China Open
Jessica Pegula and Maria Sakkari advance to the semifinal in Tokyo
Asian Games Champion Qinwen Zheng Reveals Shock Departure Of Coach Fissette
‘Super happy’ Holger Rune Reacts To Winning First Match Since Wimbledon In Beijing
Top seed Iga Swiatek Dumped Out Of Tokyo By Kudermetova
‘Bulls**t’ – Expert Involved In Simona Halep’s Anti-Doping Case Blasts Four-Year Ban
Maria Sakkari ‘Scared’ Of Anti-Doping Testing Measures After Halep Ban
Gutsy Novak Djokovic Prevails In Grueling Battle With Medvedev To Win US Open
Iga Swiatek Dismisses Criticism Over Recent US Open Exit
COMMENT: Novak Djokovic Proves His Greatness At US Open
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